"You going to the dance?"
"I don't really dance too well."
Freshman year at the College of Charleston was totally new ground socially. We wore beanies for crying out loud. It couldn't have been more embarrassing if ther had a propeller on top. Nobody could feel like a grownup wearing a maroon beanie. All Freshmen were issued this small hat with a tiny bill. The color was maroon with white stripes from four points meeting beneath a button. It was a requirement of the school that they be worn by all first year students while on campus. Crappy little beany, I thought each morning I clapped it on my noggin.
It mussed up my hair.
I liked my hair. For years I'd been training it with gobs of Butch Hair Wax in the tiny red can. It was twice the size of a snuff container. There was never a stray hair with this stuff. I'd whip my comb out of my pocket and slide it carefully through the long locks on each side into a small DA at the nape of my neck. A quick twist at the front provided the casual fall of hair across my forehead. A style mastered after many hours standing before a mirror perfecting the movements. There were times when the comb had to be jettisoned due to the thick roll of Butch Hair Wax at the base of the teeth. To slide it back into the pants pocket would leave a unwanted smear along the pocket opening. In these cases it was easier to buy another dime comb for a quarter. They were in most convenience stores in a plastic container.
All those years of training were in vain in the fall of 1964 when we were told to wear the freshman beanie if we intended to stay at C of C.
My friend and I were marching to chapel. I make it sound like we were in the military and it kind of was. Each Wednesdy we were required to attend chapel. It was at the top of the winding stairs that led to the doors just beyond the columns at the top of those stairs. It was mandatory, the same as the beanie. Folding chairs were laid out along the floor row on row. The dark stain of the floor shown in opposition to the light colored chairs. We chose our seat only to rise when the Administrator walked through the side door. Then we were subjected to the next ritual of this old southern liberal arts college.
"Would everyone stand please and face the south. That's looking toward those doors behind you," said the important soul at the podium now at our backs due to our about facing.
"Bow your heads, please, and repeat after me."
The entire freshman class, that was required to be there--did I mention that?--did as requested and the Lord's Prayer was ended with an amen. Feet shuffled, voices murmurred and chairs scraped across the floor as we turned once again to the front and sat. We sat through some boring words said to be vitally important for a freshman's understanding of college life. WE daydreamed while squirming to keep our butts from going to sleep as this important soul yammered on. Some people require a captive audience to feel their importance I figured as I shifted in my chair.
When the ordeal was finally over we left by the side doors. The inner stairwell ended beside my first class, Calculus I. The professor who walked in after we sat at our desks looked exactly like Woody Allen. We soon found that his sense of humour was nothing like that of Woody Allen. His sense of humour was completely non existent. He was as dry as paint and as boring as the subject. He spent the entire hour droning on about sets and numbers and blah blah blah. When I wasn't day dreaming I was being punched by my buddy each time the snoring began. The professor eyed my area several times during the hour. I figured he was seeing who his prize students were going to be. Since math was an easy subject for me I had no doubts this course would be a breeze. But that's another story.
Between classes we wandered over to the student union to order some breakfast and coffee to knock the sleep out after that bit of dullness. Sitting at counter we watched the beanied girls come through the door.
"You'd better enjoy looking at the pretty girls the first week," an upper classman had told me the first day.
"Why?" I asked.
"Once they get into the classes they won't have time to fix themselves up like that. That time will be taken up with studying. They are going to look pretty bedraggled after the first couple of weeks, hair all stringy and less and less make up. This is the best they will look for the rest of the year."
I had laughed at him but his words were prophetic. Some looked like zombies staggering around after the weight of college work finally took hold. It was culture shock to all of us. After all my hair just wouldn't stay in place with that confounded beanie. I could relate.
"Did you ever answer me about the dance?" my buddy asked.
"No, not really. I don't know anybody here yet."
"Well, here they come. You got a lot a choices there."
In walked blondes and brunettes in short skirts all colors of the rainbow. They always came in groups chatting and laughing. It made it hard for guy not quite sure of himself in a new environment. We watched them all come in and slide into booths. One out of each bunch would get up to walk to the counter to give the cook everyone's order. We'd eye them carefully while being look over ourselves. Normally my friend and I got the once over once with maybe a smile but not much more. These young ladies were in the market for the quick recognition. They were trolling for upper classmen. They wanted to be at the top of the food chain from the start.
To pledge a fraternity or sorority was the ambition of most freshmen. Theirs was to become Tri Deltas, top o' the lot, or, at least, that was their belief. Freshman year was a mad scramble to those so inclined to pledge to the best.
Continuing to watch the colorful parade of new female students my eye was captured by a slim brunette who wore no beanie. She was with a small group and seemed quiet amongst the chatter. She held her books in front as she walked by. I thought I saw a quick glance my way. My heart raced. Her short hair was a rich dark crossing her forehead overshadowing deep brown eyes. Her skin was flawless and pale with lips of crimson asking to be kissed. I was lost in a dream filled with music and perfumed air gently wafting past me. I floated born up by the gentle breeze she generated as she slipped by me. Beanies shmeanies I was in love. I was in love with an upper classman. She had touched my soul with that one glance. I had to find my way into her life.
"So, what do you think?" asked my buddy.
"Huh? What?" he startled me. I crashed into the reality of my thoughts as they dropped from the air to the floor. She was beyond my grasp. Only ten feet away in a booth but light years away on the social scale.
"I'm in love," I said to no one in particular. "See that girl in the booth. The beautiful brunette?"
"You talking about that upper classman?"
"Yeah. Ain't she wonderful?"
"Ha! You're a dreamer, aren't you? She won't give you the time of day."
"I know. I gotta do something though. I can barely move."
And I didn't. I sat gazing at her for the entire she sat with her friends. Maybe she felt uncomfortable, I don't know. Having a freshman staring in your direction might be a bit disconcerting but I wasn't able to control myself. She was all I saw.
My freshman year was a tangle of bad decisions and terrible mistakes. The college campus, along with the rice patties of Viet Nam, brought out the worst in me. The brunette? Oh yes, we began to date after I got the nerve to apporoach her. We were an item that first year until I made stupid, stupid mistakes after which she could never find it within to forgive me. She will always live in my heart with a large dose of regret. I often wonder what she is doing now. Life is ...something, isn't it.